MILWAUKEE — De Pere's girls soccer team arrived Thursday at Uihlein Soccer Park with just one goal left to accomplish this season: win the successful program's first state title.
Playing to the strength of its stingy defense, all the Redbirds needed was one goal to move a step closer to fulfilling their objective.
An own goal off a Waukesha West player early in the first half held up for a 1-0 De Pere victory in the quarterfinals of the WIAA Division 1 state tournament.
"We came (here) to play," Frankie Janssen said.
Janssen and fellow team captain Lauren Splittgerber – the only seniors on the Redbirds roster – have been the center anchors of a De Pere defense that has refused to give up anything in the playoffs.
De Pere (20-4-3) posted its fifth shutout in as many postseason games.
Going back to the start of their current 12-game unbeaten streak (11-0-1), junior goalkeeper Megan Lindstrom and the Redbirds have 11 shutouts. They have allowed only one goal in their late-season run.
"I have a great defense, I have a great goalie, and they worked their butts off, and it paid off," De Pere coach Trish Rhodes said.
The Redbirds, who are in the state tournament for the first time in three years, advance to the semifinals Friday. They will play Kenosha Tremper (23-3-1) at 6 p.m. Friday.
"It's really comforting to know we have such a good defense," De Pere junior forward Carmen Villarruel said. "They're always strong, and with our goalie making all of the saves, it gives us confidence."
Villarruel, the team's top goal scorer this season, found herself in the right place at the right time to indirectly give the Redbirds the upper hand.
In a sequence that started with a long free kick by Janssen, the ball bounced around amid a crowd inside the 18-yard penalty box. Villarruel managed to get a touch on the ball right in front of the net and watched as the redirected ball trickled just inside the left post 13 minutes, 27 seconds into play.
"I think I just put my body through the ball, it bounced off some defender, and it went in," Villarruel said.
The score officially was recorded as an own goal, but Villarruel was given credit for it.
"They caught a break," Waukesha West coach Dave Zindler said. "As somebody who's coached in the semifinals and finals, I know to win it all you've got to catch some breaks."
The Wolverines (19-5) were Division 1 runners-up in 2009 and last year.
Zindler feels De Pere is worthy of reaching the title game Saturday for just the second time. The Redbirds finished second in 2007.
"We just have to keep showing up and playing," Rhodes said. "As long as they do that, they are fully capable of winning this thing."
Thus far, De Pere's defense isn't letting go of keeping the clamps on tight on its opponents.
The combination of Janssen, Splittgerber, junior Maddie Miller, sophomore Reece Ebert and freshman Danyell Steger bottled up Waukesha West standouts Cassie Blase and Katie Grall. The Wolverines controlled the ball in De Pere's defensive end for most of the second half but put only three shots on goal.
"I have confidence in our defense, and Megan's been doing phenomenal," Splittgerber said.
Lindstrom had to make just one save for her 16th shutout this season.
De Pere outshot Waukesha West 5-4. All of the Redbirds' shots against freshman goalie Jessie Losiniecki (two saves) came in the first half.